Tag Archives: scenic rail

Day 17 – Ballenberg Folk Museum

Today, Raul and Lauren took a series of trains from Lausanne to Interlaken along the fourth scenic rail journey, the Golden Pass. For the segment starting in Montreux, they decided to ride in one of the classic Belle Epoque cars since they had enjoyed it so much the previous day on the Chocolate Train. It was a great deal because it was covered by their Swiss Pass, and, unlike other scenic rail journeys, a seat reservation was not compulsory.

At Interlaken, the travellers deposited their bags in a handy train station locker and left for the Swiss Open-Air Folk Museum. It is shameful that in the U.S., luggage lockers have all but disappeared from airports and train stations due to “security risks.”

The Museum is actually 50 acres of over 100 transplanted traditional Swiss buildings. Many of these can be likened to museums in and of themselves, displaying traditional clothing, tools, trades, and crafts: watch-making, farming, hat-making, textiles, etc. So this complex is actually a series of museums in one giant museum. The Museum has physically relocated centuries-old buildings to their property, grouping them according to their region of origin. Visitors can enter into almost all of these buildings, which consist of farm-houses, town-houses, granaries, barns, storage buildings, and those dedicated to handicrafts or other occupations. In addition to the structures and many gardens, the Museum is also home to every kind of native Swiss farm animal and even some endangered breeds. The animals are not corralled off in a separate space but rather are integrated among the farmsteads. This fact, along with the live fires burning in the hearths and the actual production of honey, bread, and other goods made it feel like a truly living community. Raul and Lauren had time to visit only about one quarter of the area, but they may return in the next few days if the weather isn’t conducive to high-mountain excursions.

Their destination for the next several nights was Gimmelwald, a tiny village perched high above Lauterbrunnen Valley on a cliff. To reach it, they took a cable car from the valley floor. After checking in, they socialized with a few Canadians at dinner (they were not as animated about hockey as the other Canadian Raul and Lauren know) and explored for a short time a daring path that leads to what is called a via ferrata–a suspension bridge, exceedingly narrow and precarious, requiring the use of a harness and carabiners to traverse safely. This is beyond the scope of Raul and Lauren’s sojourn.

Confœderatio Helvetica
Coat of Arms

Time Plan Sleep in
Day 17 Friday 1 June Gimmelwald
09:01 Depart Lausanne platform 3 on S1 12123 to Montreux
Duration: 30m
Saved S₣5,20
09:31 Arrive Montreux, transfer to platform 5 on D 3118 to Zweisimmen
09:45 Depart Montreux – Golden Pass, reservation S₣15 front-row VIP seats, S₣5-10 other seats
Duration: 1h 47m
Saved S₣49
11:32 Arrive Zweisimmen, transfer to platform 7 on RE 3118 to Interlaken
11:38 Depart Zweisimmen – Golden Pass
Duration: 1h 11m
12:49 Arrive Interlaken Ost, stow bags, transfer to platform 4 on IR 2223 to Brienz
13:04 Depart Interlaken Ost for ▲▲Swiss Open-Air Folk Museum at Ballenberg
Duration: 45m
Saved S₣5,60
13:22 Arrive Brienz
13:37 Depart Brienz BE, Bahnhof on Bus 215 to Ballenberg West, Museum
13:49 ▲▲Swiss Open-Air Folk Museum at Ballenberg, closes at 17:00
Saved S₣20
17:30 Return to Interlaken and pick up bags from train station
18:05 Depart Interlaken Ost platform 2A on R 181 for Gimmelwald, trains 1/hr
Total duration: 55m
Saved S₣17
18:35 Depart Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof on Bus 14143 for Schilthornbahn cable-car station
18:55 Take Schilthornbahn cable-car to Gimmelwald
19:30 Check in to Olle and Maria’s B&B, S₣130/night (4 nights), cash only, free Wi-Fi, breakfast S₣20
Tel: +41 033-855-3575

Day 13 – Glacial Express

Don Quixote and Sancho sallied forth this morning to St. Moritz from Samedan, intent upon finding adventure and honor on the Glacier Express bound for Zermatt. The trip would take a long eight hours and would deposit them in the town nearest the Matterhorn, that famous craggy peak.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The adventurers surely could not depart on an empty stomach. They enjoyed a delicious breakfast of cereals, yogurt, cold cuts, cheese, jams, and breads–typical of what they normally partake of and of excellent quality. This was yet another way in which Hotel Palazzo Mysanus exceeded all others so far.

Raul and Lauren’s railway journey was long but immensely more comfortable than by plane. The travellers opted to upgrade from second to first class due to the length of the trip. Also for the first time, they had a proper meal on a train.

The Glacier Express slowly (sometimes, at 20 m.p.h.) carried its passengers over countless bridges and viaducts, through dozens of tunnels, often perched on the edge of gorges and canyons, and over high mountain passes using a rack and pinion engine and track to overcome 12.5% grades. The terrain varied from the green, Alpine meadows of the Engadine valleys to the barren tundra above the tree line to boulder-lined landscapes reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The views were fantastic and endless. Lauren took a nap after lunch, not because she wanted to but because the Dramamine and the gentle rocking of the train made her drowsy.

Once in Zermatt, they checked into their room at the Youth Hostel and dined on the included dinner, which was barely mediocre. They do not plan to partake tomorrow.

A stroll through the traffic-free lanes of Zermatt was all they had time for before calling it a night.

Confœderatio Helvetica
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Time Plan Sleep in
Day 13 Monday 28 May Zermatt
07:56 Depart Pontresina on R 4624 to St. Moritz
Duration: 12m
Saved S₣2,50
08:08 Arrive St. Moritz
09:15 Depart St. Moritz on D 905, S₣33 seat reservation – Glacier Express, upgrade to 1st class, S₣96
Duration: 7h 45m
Saved S₣136
12:30 Three-course lunch on Glacier Express, S₣43, 11:00-13:30
17:00 Arrive Zermatt
17:20 Check in at Zermatt Youth Hostel, S₣114,20/night (1-2 nights), includes breakfast & dinner
Tel: +41 027-967-2320
17:30 ▲Wander the Town or ▲▲Matterhorn Museum, closes at 18:00

Day 12 – Geschlossen bis Juni

Hotel San Carlo’s breakfast room seemed too small for the size of the hotel, and Lauren and Raul indeed had to wait for a table. After a hurried breakfast, Lauren had the uncomfortable encounter of overhearing the proprietor telling an Asian woman that she and her party had stayed too long at breakfast–over an hour–and that she should not take so much time, as other guests needed to eat as well. Lauren was very surprised at this sentiment, because Europeans simply don’t hurry through meals.

Raul and Lauren rushed to the bus stop adjacent to the train station above the town and boarded the Bernina Express bus bound for Tirano, Italy. The bus ride was bumpy and jerky, in stark contrast to their train journeys. The rocking put Lauren to sleep as it usually does. They waited an hour and a half in Tirano for their official Bernina Express train connection and used that time to explore the town’s vast Sunday market.

The Bernina Express train journey was breathtaking, with numerous switchbacks that allow the train to climb to 7,380 ft–higher than they were on Mount Pilatus. Amazingly, this ascent is achieved without the use of a cogwheel.

They arrived in Pontresina ready to check in to their chosen hotel. After a steep climb to the town’s center, they found that not only was their hotel closed until June, but so were the other five they checked. Evidently there is a lull between the winter and summer seasons when many establishments shutter their doors. With little choice left, Raul and Lauren found an open hotel in the nearby town of Samedan, the Hotel Palazzo Mysanus. Being one of the more expensive options, it wasn’t their first choice, but it was their only choice. In this case, the expense was well worth it, as this hotel was by far the nicest one they have stayed at thus far.

A tour of the town led them to a dramatic viewpoint by the Church of St. Peter. From here, they could survey the valley and peaks surrounding Samedan. Even though Samedan is in a valley, the altitude is still over 6,000 ft.

They caught the next train to the nearby resort town of St. Moritz for dinner. Just as Pontresina and Samedan had been, St. Moritz was virtually deserted, and most businesses were closed until later in June. They dined at probably the only open restaurant, Restaurant Hauser, and returned to Samedan for the night. Needless to say, they did not spot any celebrities.

Since most places were closed, they decided to travel on to Zermatt the next morning, rather than spend Monday in the Upper Engadine region. So, their itinerary has been slightly derailed.

Confœderatio Helvetica
Coat of Arms

Time Plan Sleep in
Day 12 Sunday 27 May Pontresina
10:00 Depart Lugano on Bus 5950, S₣12 seat reservation – Bernina Express
Total duration: 6h 26m
Saved S₣52
13:00 Arrive Tirano
14:22 Depart Tirano on D 960, S₣12 seat reservation – Bernina Express
16:26 Arrive Pontresina, bus 2 from Pontresina, Post leaves for Segantini Museum at 16:48
16:30 Check in at Hotel Engadinerhof, S₣120/night (2 nights)
Tel: +41 081-839-3100
17:30 Visit St. Moritz, 10m train, 1/hr

Day 11 – Dark Chocolate Gelato…Mmmm

Raul and Lauren took an early train from Luzern, in central Switzerland, to reach Lugano, a mid-sized town three hours away in the southern, Italian part of the country. Their route followed one of the four famous scenic rail journeys in Switzerland, that of the William Tell Express, although they took a standard train and not the official one. A lot changed in this short trip: they crossed into the canton of Ticino; the architecture is of stone, not wood; the climate is warmer; and the people are Italian-speaking. Indeed, when they departed Luzern, announcements were given in German, and upon arriving, they were made in Italian. There is a very Mediterranean feel about the city, and it’s easy to believe that Lake Lugano is really the Mediterranean Sea (except here, one can see the other side of the lake!).

Although Raul and Lauren arrived by 11:00 a.m., their hotel room was already prepared, so they were able to check in and leave their bags. A tour of the cute town took only a short time, and they walked along the lakefront toward San Salvatore. On the way, Lauren had dark chocolate gelato, and for once, it really was dark. It was the best she’s ever had.

Finally, they arrived at the funicular that would take them up San Salvatore. This mountain, standing at 2990 ft, is small compared to its northern counterparts, but it affords good panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was exceptionally hazy. In clearer weather, it would have been possible to see Milano, Italy.

After descending the mountain, they walked on to a ferry just as it was departing for Italy. Their destination was the nearby fishing village of Gandria. Luckily, the ferry stopped there before continuing on its course.

Perched on a terrace high above the lake, the Taranusauruses enjoyed a quick appetizer of tagliatelle noodles in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce. They returned afterwards to Lugano.

In Lugano, Raul and Lauren spent the evening strolling the lakeside promenade and ate dinner on the Piazza della Riforma. When abroad, Lauren likes to try new dishes, so she chose fresh gnocchi with zaffron cream sauce. It was too bad she didn’t like it. The service was also very slow, a fact that made the feeling of being in Italy even stronger. Raul did not mind the slow service as much, since they were in Lugano to relax.

Confœderatio Helvetica
Coat of Arms

Time Plan Sleep in
Day 11 Saturday 26 May Lugano
08:06 Depart Luzern platform 11B on S3 21331
Total duration: 2h 39m
Saved S₣28
08:38 Arrive Arth-Goldau, transfer to platform 4 on ICN 661
08:47 Depart Arth-Goldau
10:46 Arrive Lugano, drop off bags at Albergo Montarina
Tel: +41 091-966-7272
11:00 Self-guided walk
13:00 San Salvatore, ascend via funicular, S₣12, 09:00-19:30
Saved S₣12
16:13 Take ferry from Paradiso to Gandria
Duration: 19m
Saved S₣24,20
18:15 Return to Paradiso via ferry
Duration: 25m
19:15 Check in at Albergo Montarina, S₣60 two bunk beds including sheets, S₣12 breakfast buffet, free wifi